How Canadians are welcoming Syrian refugees

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      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's gesture of personally greeting Syrian refugees at a Toronto airport may have been criticized by cynics.

      However, during a time when uncertainy, fear, and confusion could mushroom out of proportion, it did set a tone and model of behaviour for both Canadians and other world leaders that has been echoed by many Canadians of all cultures and backgrounds and has gained international praise and admiration.

      It has also highlighted differences in approaches between Canada and other countries, particularly the U.S.

      A similar north-south divide arose in Europe between Sweden, which maintained an open-door policy, and Denmark, which introduced restrictions to discourage asylum seekers, when Syria refugees began to arrive in September.

      The video below shows German people gathered to welcome Syrian refugees arriving in Germany in September.

      Here in Canada, the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was photographed on a Mediterranean beach while trying to make it to Vancouver, told the Toronto Star that her brother Mohammad Kurdi (the uncle of Alan) will finally be coming to Vancouver. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has booked him and his family (who will first reunite in Germany) a flight for December 28.

      In spite of some Canadians expressing opposition to Syrian refugees, a number of videos have shown how Canadians are welcoming new arrivals from Syria.

      Here's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne welcoming the first government plane of Syrian refugees at Toronto's Pearson Airport on December 10. In this video, a Syrian man tells Trudeau that he and his family plan on living the Canadian way.

      The image of Trudeau personally greeting Syrian arrivals helps to counter Islamaphobia in the same way that his photo with an openly gay MP, his husband, and their children (in addition to his participation in the Canadian Pride parades such as Vancouver's own parade) helps to counter homophobia. (Princess Diana, for instance, had a similar influence in the 1980s when she was captured interacting with HIV–positive people at a time when many people were afraid to touch people with HIV or AIDS.)

      In this video below, Canadians of diverse backgrounds welcome Syrians to Canada in a range of different languages, including sign language.

      In the following video by the Christian organization World Vision Canada, children from across the nation say welcome to Syrian refugees (including two girls who start off singing the national anthem but somehow wind up singing about Timbits…).

      The following video, uploaded on December 11, of an Ottawa children's choir, made up of Grade 4 to 6 students from French public schools, singing the traditional Arabic song "Tala' al-Badru 'Alayna" has gone viral and received international media attention.

      While it is entitled "Welcome to Canada Syrian Refugees", Robert Filion, the choral director at Ottawa's École secondaire publique De La Salle, told the CBC that the song had been planned a year in advance, which was before the news of Canada's plan to bring 25,000 refugees. 

      However, the video has touched many viewers with the cross-cultural effort.

      They aren't the only ones lending their vocal talents to welcome Syrians. In our own city, the Vancouver Men's Chorus has been holding fundraising concerts and working with Rainbow Refugee to help two gay Syrian refugees to apply for refugee status here.

      Meanwhile, Imtiaz Popat, founder of the queer Muslim group Salaam Vancouver, organized a human-rights rally outside Vancouver's under-construction Trump tower on December 12 to counter Islamphobia and Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

      Syrian gay immigrant Danny Ramadan had also been raising awareness of the plight of gay Syrians, by speaking at events like Qmunity's International Day Against Homophobia in May.